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The Bus by Paula Johnson

After months of glances and weeks of conversation, he worked up the nerve to suggest dinner, but was drowned out by the blaring bus horn. They laughed. He tried again. She accepted. Several regular passengers applauded.

She blinked back tears when he did not appear at the restaurant or answer his phone. While she died a little inside, he died outside under the front wheels of a crosstown bus.

“He ran right in front of me,” the bus driver said.

“Why was he in such a hurry?” an old man asked.

“Who were the flowers for?” asked his wife.

• • • • •

In addition to publishing 1,000-word flash fiction stories, the Rose City Sisters now accepts your micro fiction. Keep your story to 100 words or less (not including the title). Submit by email.

#78 Magpie Girl by Paula Johnson

Her birth certificate read Margaret, her friends called her Maggie, but her mother always called her Magpie Girl.

From earliest childhood, Margaret rescued odd items from secondhand stores, estate sales and even trash bins. As an adult, she had many, many collections of one item each. She was no packrat; her treasures were meticulously clean and artfully displayed. Some might call it clutter, but it was curated clutter, to be sure. Her trove included the following: Continue Reading

#55 Daisy’s Masterpiece by Paula Johnson

Daisy was obsessed with Christmas. She loved everything about the holiday—the fragrant tree, shiny ornaments, twinkling lights, candy canes, the works. Just last week, her mother heard the seven-year-old belting out “Jingle Bell Rock” to an audience of dolls.

It was cute. It would have been adorable, but it was August in Pasadena. And the Blums were Jewish.

“Maybe she’ll grow out of it,” Jessica Blum said to her husband as they sipped their morning coffee.

“I blame myself,” said David. When Daisy was a baby, he hung a extra-strength pine air freshener near her changing table in an unsuccessful attempt to mask the eye-watering reek of dirty diapers.

“It could’ve been worse. If you had picked the Piña Colada fragrance, we’d have the only second-grader in A.A.,” she said. Both David and Jessica were only children. Neither had babysat as teenagers, so raising a child was an often-baffling undertaking.

Daisy shuffled into the kitchen barefoot and yawning. Her Dora the Explorer nightgown was creased from sleep and her wavy brown hair looked like it had been styled with a weed-whacker. She pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter and poured some cereal into her favorite bowl—a chipped piece of Christmas Spode purchased at a yard sale for a quarter.

Jessica poured the milk on her daughter’s cereal, admiring (and not for the first time) the way her engagement ring sparkled in the morning sun. It was not the ring she expected when David proposed nine years ago. They were both paying off student loans and dealing with necessary expenses like dependable cars and business attire.

She assumed that when the time came, they’d find a small, affordable ring at J.C. Penney and joke that a snack at Cinnabon was just as good as breakfast at Tiffany’s.

But David’s grandmother had other plans. She wanted her only grandson to have her engagement ring. “It was my mother’s. Let’s keep it in the family,” she’d said. That’s how Jessica wound up wearing a platinum filigree Edwardian solitaire that was very likely worth more than her car.

“What’s on your agenda today?” David asked his wife. He had to spend his Saturday at his company’s annual strategy meeting.

“Just quality time with the other men in my life,” she said with a grin. Her list included Bill (shoe repair), Mr. Tran (dry cleaner), Wyatt (bagels) and the nameless guy at Jiffy Lube with the Celtic tattoo and bedroom eyes.

“Momma, don’t forget the art store!,” yelped Daisy through a mouthful of Lucky Charms. The little girl’s reward for a day of errands was some new markers or colored pencils from Blick. Daisy worked cheap.

It was after four o’clock when the pair returned home with their boxes, bags, and library books. Jessica settled Daisy at the dining room table with her pink tackle box of art supplies, and went into the kitchen to put away the groceries.

She was thinking about dinner when suddenly the air left her lungs and the room started spinning. Her diamond. Her husband’s grandmother’s—no, great-grandmother’s—diamond was gone. The gaping hole in the ring was horrific, like a missing eyeball or a gunshot wound.

She thought about all the places she had been and tried to remember when she had last seen the diamond sparkle. Jessica must have made some sort of noise, because Daisy looked up from her work.

“What’s the matter, momma?”

“Nothing, baby. Just wishing Daddy was home.”

“Can we have Tater Tots?”

“Sure, sweetheart. Lots of tots.” Daisy grinned at her mother’s rhyme and returned to her drawing.

Knowing it was futile, Jessica walked through the house, looking into corners, shaking out towels, pawing through the laundry basket. Losing the diamond was bad enough, but the idea that it might be in a trash can at McDonald’s or kicked into a gutter was even worse.

When David walked in just before six o’clock, Jessica led him into their bedroom, explained what happened, and let herself cry for a few minutes.

“It was just an old rock,” said David when she stopped sobbing and blew her nose. “A big, pretty rock, but a rock all the same.”

“I know, but I feel like I let your grandmother down.”

“The only way you could have let her down was by not wearing it. We’ll get a new stone for your ring.”

“Yeah, if we start saving now, we might able to afford a diamond by the time Daisy is ready to get married,” said Jessica.

“That’s only if she skips college. Education is so overrated, anyway,” said David with a small smile.

The heat hadn’t let up, so Jessica ordered a pizza, David microwaved a side of Tator Tots, and the family sat down to eat. Daisy’s picture was posted on the refrigerator to keep it safe from tomato sauce and cheese grease.

After a little TV and some ice cream, Daisy was ready for bed. Forty minutes into a bad movie, David and Jessica decided to call it a day.

They made their usual small talk as they got ready for bed, but Jessica was just going through the motions. After she brushed her teeth, she checked every inch of the bathroom in case the diamond had fallen and bounced on the tile floor. She sighed, put her ring in her jewelry box, and flopped down next to David. He was already asleep.

After an hour of fidgeting, Jessica got out of bed and headed to the kitchen for a cold drink—and maybe some cold pizza. The light from the refrigerator illuminated Daisy’s latest masterpiece which was secured to the freezer door with two Hello Kitty magnets.

It was another Christmas tree, of course. This one had branches in three shades of green with silver glitter tinsel and crayon-colored lights. At the very top of the tree, partially covered in glue, was a nearly flawless 2 carat European-cut diamond.
© Copyright 2010 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.


Paula Johnson is a copywriter and graphic designer who also writes and performs stand-up comedy and maintains The Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology. This is her fourth flash fiction story. Others are “Good with Names,” an account of life with a very modest superpower; “Better Late Than Never,” a soap opera love story; and “Lotion” a tale that could only happen in New Orleans.  Paula looks forward to reading your submission to this blog. Yes, you.

#48 Good With Names by Paula Johnson

I can’t fly. I’m not very strong. No x-ray vision, even after Lasik surgery. Still, I have superpowers. Okay, just one superpower. I’m good with names. Always have been.

A few weeks before my fifth birthday (and my first day of school), Mom took me shopping for “big girl clothes.” Loaded down with bags of OshKosh ensembles and StrideRite shoes,Mom decided I deserved a rare treat: lunch at the food court. The aroma of cinnamon buns and pizza was intoxicating, but I chose a hot dog on a stick. The stick was free!

We sat down, and I started dunking my deep-fried dog in ketchup before each bite. When Mom handed me a napkin, I glanced up and saw a man slide her purse off the back of her chair, slip it into his jacket, and keep walking.

“HEY!” I bellowed. “THAT’S NOT YOURS!” At four-and-eleventh-twelfths years old, I had the lungs of a drill sergeant. He disappeared into the crowd. Someone alerted mall security and they called the cops, so we ended our day filling out a police report in a tiny office. Even worse, I lost my free stick. Mom didn’t get a look at the thief, but witnesses said he was young, white, medium build, and about 5′ 8″ tall. So…almost anyone.

“His name is Jeffrey Arnold Moscarino,” I volunteered.

“You know him?” asked Officer Wilson.

“I know his name,” I said.

“You know this Moscarino?” he asked Mom. “Neighbor kid? Baby-sitter’s boyfriend?”

She shook her head and said she’d ask my dad. Luckily, Mom kept her keys in her pocket so we could get home.

The police ran Moscarino’s name and found his address. Officer Wilson called to say they arrested him and recovered Mom’s purse. She hung up and asked how I knew his name.

“I know everybody’s name.” I pointed out the window at the postal carrier approaching our house. “Jin Salvatore Yang.” My mother paused for a moment, then dashed outside. After a brief, animated conversation, she returned with this fact: Mr. Yang had been born in an ambulance with the help of a paramedic named Salvatore Giordano.

Then I recited the complete names of everyone on our block, including people I had only seen from a distance. That night, my parents explained that knowing names is different than knowing colors or letters. Dad asked me if I could keep my “gift” secret.

“Just so no one feels bad because they aren’t good with names like you,” he said.

So I didn’t mention that my kindergarten teacher’s first name was Sunshine but we were told to call her Miss Susan.

And I kept my mouth shut when I came home from middle school and spotted our new neighbor: a tall, full-figured woman named Richard Brian Weber. Hiding my gift was easy. Kids want to fit in, not stand out.

Like all superpowers, mine has limits. I have to see a person, face to face. So when Mom and I watched “Overboard” for the hundredth time, I had to Google “Goldie Hawn” to discover she was really Goldie Jean Studlendgehawn. Studlendgehawn?

By the time I was 17, the only other person who knew about my gift was Uncle Tim. Mom’s brother was a priest at a church an hour south of Memphis. My secret was safe.

We hadn’t seen Uncle Tim in a few years, so my folks decided to squeeze in a family vacation between my high school graduation and the start of my summer job. That’s why I was at Tennessee’s Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park instead of Malibu that June.

But before Uncle Tim could hang with us, “Father Timothy” had to escort 58 students back to his parish after their week at Bible camp. The kids were about my age, so I grabbed a seat on the bus and became fast friends with a girl named Bernie (Bernadette Philomena Fitzgerald, to be exact).

We were more than halfway to Uncle Tim’s church when our driver spotted a vintage Cadillac on the shoulder, steam pouring from its engine. As our driver parked the bus, I saw a handsome man with a shock of white hair near the car. He was punching numbers into a cell phone.

“JESUS CHRIST!” I shouted. Uncle Tim inhaled sharply and started praying in Latin. I grabbed his arm.

“No,” I said. “That’s not the Son of God, it’s the Man from Memphis. That’s Elvis Aaron Presley.” Uncle Tim shot out of his seat and ran toward the front of the bus.

I don’t know if was the conviction in my voice or Uncle Tim’s reaction, but those happy campers turned into crazed paparazzi. In seconds, dozens of cell phones were taking pictures. In minutes, photos started appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and in emails.

I made my way to the front of the bus, but Uncle Tim told the driver to keep the doors closed. It didn’t matter. Kids were hanging out the windows, shouting requests.

I could not take my eyes off the King as he gazed down the road, unaffected by the chaos around him.

Two black SUVs pulled up behind the Caddy. A young man leaped out and opened the back door. Mr. Presley paused before getting in. He looked right at me and he curled his lip, just a little. The nun next to me fainted. The SUVs roared away.

The Elvis sighting dominated the news for a few days, then became just another entry on urban legend websites.

I started Art Center that fall and ended up working my way through college by putting names to faces for the FBI, TSA, NSA, CIA, and, during one summer in London, MI-6.

I married a wonderful man and we have a daughter who’s almost five. She recently showed me something that makes my skill with names look like a parlor trick. She knows her gift is our little secret…for now.

© Copyright 2010 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paula Johnson is a copywriter and graphic designer who also writes and performs stand-up comedy and maintains The Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology. She wrote “Better Late Than Never” and “Lotion” for this blog. She wants to know when she can expect a story from you.

#33 Lotion by Paula Johnson

Bethany stood at the baggage carousel at New Orleans International Airport willing her suitcase to appear. The last of the passengers were gone, leaving her to stare at the silent metal chute. Here it comes, she thought. Now! It’s coming…now!

Nope.

She slung her laptop bag over her shoulder, and set off to file a lost luggage claim. Thirty minutes later, she was in cab headed for St. Charles Avenue.

Bethany was glad she decided against staying at the conference hotel. Her husband would be joining her tomorrow after finishing some business in Memphis. A 26-story hotel filled with several hundred fellow psychologists was not her idea of romantic.

The smaller hotel she had selected had a lovely lobby. When the desk clerk heard about her lost luggage, he upgraded her room.

“Can’t let your first visit to the Big Easy start on a sour note,” he said with a smile.

“I’m feeling better already,” Bethany said. “But I need a dress for a cocktail party. Can you point me to a department store?”

“The French Quarter is closer,” he said, handing her a map. “You can pick up the streetcar out front. We’ll put your computer case in your room.”

Bethany didn’t have the shopping gene. She ordered work clothes from Lands End and trusted a personal shopper at Nordstrom for everything else. Still, she was excited about her small adventure in this famous city.

Her work as a school psychologist was rewarding and frustrating. She recently discovered a student’s mother was often beaten by his father. The boy, Ryan, was terrified and had had a difficult time opening up. She was required to report it. The police went to the home, but the mother denied any abuse.

Snap out of it, she thought. You can’t fix everything.

She skimmed the tourist map and learned that the French Quarter was created in 1718. Old Pasadena isn’t all that old, she thought, thinking of the historic district near her home.

She walked quickly along the streets of the French Quarter, hoping to find a store with a little black dress exactly like the one in her missing suitcase. Instead, a window display of colorful sweaters and shawls caught her eye.

Inside, there were racks of dresses and antique tables piled with knitted items, silk scarves, jewelry, books, and candles. There was even a small cosmetics counter along the back wall. What could have been a jumble looked like the boudoir of someone with unlimited money and lots of imagination.

Just then a woman walked past Bethany. She looked like the best-dressed guest at a funeral, except for her radiant smile. She stopped at the cosmetics counter and handed the clerk a white envelope that appeared to be stuffed with money.

Consumed with curiosity, Bethany browsed her way to the two women and overheard them talking about…skin care. When the customer departed, the clerk turned to Bethany.

“What troubles you?” she asked Bethany in a soothing drawl. “Your man?”

“Uh, no, my husband is great.” Bethany was caught off guard. “I’m sorry, I have a lot on my mind.”

“Shows on your face. If the man ain’t your husband, who is he?”

“A woman I know. Her husband is…violent.” Bethany didn’t know why she was confiding in a stranger. This never happens at the Clinique counter.

“Best way to take care of man troubles is to take care of the skin,” the older woman said, pulling a small bottle from the case. Another customer called out a greeting and the clerk excused herself.

Bethany held the bottle, thinking it was heavy for its size. “Laveau” was printed in elaborate script on the front. The name was familiar. Maybe she’d read about it in a magazine at the dentist’s office? Or was that Louboutin?

The back of the bottle was nearly blank. No ingredients. No SPF. Just six words: Heals the skin. Prevents future damage. She removed the cap and took a whiff. The fragrance was divine.

The clerk returned with another white envelope. Bethany turned around in time to see a heavyset woman climb into a Lincoln Town Car. She was dressed in black.

“I’m wondering about your prices,” said Bethany, gesturing to the envelope as it disappeared behind the counter.

“The lotion is fifteen dollars,” the clerk said. “But some customers are so happy with their results, they give me a…bonus.”

“But those women didn’t buy more lotion,” said Bethany.

“One bottle is enough,” said the clerk. “When the bottle’s empty, man troubles are gone.”

Another woman approached the counter. She, too, was dressed in black, but it was a simple dress and not new. A solemn toddler was at her side, his right arm in a cast. The young mother said nothing, but handed the clerk a slim stack of one- and five-dollar bills secured with a paper clip. The clerk removed a single dollar and returned the stack to the young woman. Her eyes filled with tears. She nodded and left with her son.

Bethany was struck by an odd combination of exhilaration and nausea. She knew it was just a bottle of perfumed lotion. What else would it be?

“I’ll take it,” she said. The stress of the day had left her exhausted. She decided to skip the cocktail party and turn in early. The short ride on the streetcar cleared her head.

Bethany found two surprises in her hotel room: her wayward suitcase and her devoted husband. The last of his meetings was canceled, so Jeff caught an earlier flight. She was looking over the room service menu when her husband made a gagging sound.

“This smells disgusting! What the hell is it?” he said, screwing the cap back on the bottle.

“It’s a gift,” said Bethany, “for a woman who needs to save her skin.”

© Copyright 2010 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paula Johnson is a copywriter and graphic designer on purpose and a stand-up comedian by accident. She co-produces The Joke Gym open mic comedy show and is the editor of The Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology. Her story “Better Late Than Never” appeared on this blog in 2009.

#21 Better Late Than Never by Paula Johnson

Matilda Bishop was lucky. As the nanny for a family who had managed to hang on to most of the trappings of wealth during the Depression, she received a small salary, a room of her own, and Sundays off. It was heaven compared to her upbringing on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.

The baby was napping and Mrs. Spencer was at her bridge game one afternoon when Mattie wandered into the living room and turned on the Philco. She turned the dial until a deep, comforting voice commanded her attention. The Reverend Dr. John Ruthledge was speaking, but this wasn’t a sermon. It was “The Guiding Light.” She didn’t even hear the children’s noisy arrival from school.

The eighteen-year-old started giving her young charges an afternoon snack to keep them busy during the broadcast. Of course, that meant involving the cook, and soon the aptly named Mrs. Baker was hooked on the goings-on in the fictional Five Points, Illinois.

She and Matilda gossiped about the characters as if they were fascinating neighbors. One day they didn’t notice the gardener (who was the cook’s husband) in the kitchen until he made the mistake of speaking.

“Calvin, hush,” hissed Mrs. Baker. He helped himself to a glass of lemonade and listened. Thereafter, he got thirsty each day at precisely the moment his wife turned on the Bakelite radio in her spotless kitchen.

In four years, Matilda had saved enough money to put herself through college. “Better late than never,” she told Mrs. Baker on one summer day in 1941. Their conversation ended when their show’s theme music started.

That August Mattie boarded a train for the University of Michigan. The Spencers took her to the station and the children presented her with a clumsily wrapped box containing a portable radio. She didn’t cry until the train was in motion.

She met Dot and Barbara on her first day and quickly discovered they shared a devotion to “The Guiding Light.”

Her first semester was winding down when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mattie made it through another semester, and then heard about the new Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She and her friends rushed to join. At 22, Mattie was the only one who met the age requirement.

“It’s not fair,” wailed Dot, “you’ll have all the men to yourself for a full year!”

“War is hell,” replied Mattie with a grin.

Her friends went home for the summer, and Matilda headed to Iowa for WAAC training. Her first year in the Army flew by and she was happy to spot a familiar face.

“Better late than never,” she said in greeting. “Where’s Dot?”

“Married and expecting,” said Barbara. “But my brother’s here—somewhere.”

Matilda was in no hurry to meet Stanley, a fellow who had tormented her friend until the day he left home. She pictured a brute with a sneer, and was tongue-tied when introduced.

“Stanley is a dead ringer for Gregory Peck,” Mattie announced later.

“That’s just the uniform. He’s a complete dunderhead,” Barbara assured her.

A month later, Matilda was assigned to Burma. She gave Barbara her little radio in exchange for mailed summaries of “The Guiding Light.” She received mail in three countries before returning Stateside in 1945 to finish college. Barbara had decided on a major—and married him, so her brother Stanley returned the radio.

Seven months later, Mattie married the dunderhead. They had a son. A daughter. Another son. Then twins. Along the way they started a business, sold it, and started another one. With branch locations.

Stan joked that his family ran like a military operation and it all worked because his wife outranked him.

Matilda swore she would finish college before her kids finished middle school. Instead, she and her oldest son graduated from the University of Michigan together.

In spite of her schedule, she never missed her weekly coffee klatch. Attendees who had seen “The Guiding Light” recounted the episodes for those who had not. Her sister-in-law Barbara bought Mattie a Betamax recorder in 1975.

When Stanley died a few years later, his wife and his sister eased their pain by watching him on home movies.

# # #

For her eighty-fifth birthday, her family surprised her with a trip to see her beloved Wolverines play in the 2004 Rose Bowl game. The United flight was uncrowded. Not even a baby on board. The drone of the engines had almost lulled Matilda to sleep when the flight attendant rolled up with the food cart.

“Dinner is served,” she said with a smile, placing a tray in front of Mattie.

“Thank you, dear. What’s your name?”

Kate. And I bet you’re a Michigan fan,” she said, pointing to her passenger’s maize and blue scarf.

“I am, I’m going to the Rose Bowl. My granddaughter said she’ll Tivo my show this week so I don’t miss anything.”

“Do you watch the ‘The Young and the Restless’?” she asked. “It’s my favorite.”

“Sorry, never seen it. I’ve been with ‘Guiding Light’ from the start—before TV!” Mattie said.

“The Wolverines and ‘Guiding Light’ are lucky to have you,” the flight attendant said as she moved up the aisle.

# # #

When Matilda heard the news, she assumed it was a prank. It was April 1, after all. But reports of the cancellation were true.

She was ninety years old and never dreamed she’d outlive her favorite TV show. She watched the final broadcast on September 18, 2009, then unplugged her phone and climbed into bed.

A week later, her five children, seven grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren gathered in her bedroom. This must be a wake, she thought, because I certainly can’t sleep with everyone watching. She felt bad about worrying them, but she’d needed time to decide what to do.

She motioned to her daughter, Meta.

“Will you do something for me, honey?”

“Anything, mom.”

“Turn on the TV. I want to watch ‘The Young and the Restless.’ Better late than never.”

© Copyright 2009 Paula Johnson. All rights reserved.


Paula Johnson is a copywriter and graphic designer on purpose and a stand-up comedian by accident. She co-produces The Joke Gym open mic comedy show and is the editor of The Rose City Sisters Flash Fiction Anthology. Her story is a work of fiction, but United Airlines flight attendant/actress Kate Linder is real. She plays “Esther Valentine” on the “The Young and the Restless.” Paula has never seen an entire episode of any daytime drama.

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Originally, the Rose City Sisters blog served as test site for Paula Johnson’s experiments with HTML, Javascript, animated GIFs and other web-based wonders. (Her sister, Janet, helps beta test the sites Paula designs for her clients.)

In March 2009, novelist and blogger Margaret Finnegan suggested turning the Rose City Sisters blog into a showcase for short fiction. For that bit of genius, our first story is hers.

To find out more about Paula’s work, visit her creative services website or her stand-up comedy site.

The site is a work in progress and a labor of love. Please email your questions and suggestions.